It’s not just the lives and achievements of the great and good of church history that make worthy and readable Christian biographies.
And it’s not just the accounts of men and women who left a lasting mark that make instructive reading, it’s the stories of ordinary people who came face to face with the extraordinary that often most informs and inspires.
Lives of faith past and present
From the earliest saints and missionaries, through the great thinkers and reformers to present day leaders and evangelists, just about all of them have one or more biography to assess and appraise their earthly life.
Real life accounts of ordinary Christians working out their calling under adverse - even life threatening conditions are increasingly popular. And with the advent of low cost self publishing, the number of contemporary Christian autobiographies continues to rise.
Real people and real faith
Christian Biographies are the account of a life transformed by Christ, or the account of transformation through a life lived in Christ. By definition they are true life stories of real people in real places and situations.
Many tell the story of a journey to faith because of or despite the words and actions of others. Some Christian biographies recount the impact of the life of the central character on other people, places or events. All focus on the transformation and motivation of a life changed by Christ and lived for Christ.
Assessing the life of faith today
As each age reassess the past in the light of its own morals and mores, biographers constantly review and even rewrite the lives of the past. One age’s Christian hero quickly becomes another’s misguided extremist. Just as quickly, the heretic of one era is recast by the next as an enlightened radical.
Christian biographies are not just an insight into the life and times of the subject, but on the values and views of our own times. The treatment of the apparent flaws and failings of a biography’s subject will often say more about the perspective of the writer than the written about.
Choosing a Christian biography
The lives of figures from church history will provide an understanding of changing religious ideas and the response of the faithful to changing times. Christian figures who lived or suffered through key moments in world history can give a prophetic insight into the crisis of our own time.
The biographies of ordinary people often tell down to earth stories of faith in face of opposition and danger. The conversion experience is often dramatically told with a profound difference in the subject’s life following their very personal encounter with Christ.
Extraordinary lives of ordinary people
There’s nothing wrong with reading a Christian biography simply for a good read. A really good biography should be that before anything else. The best biographies should offer the reader what they’d expect from any good, meaningful story.
A Christian biography should offer an insight into what it means to be transformed by Christ and what can happen when Christ is allowed to transform others. A Christian biography is first and foremost an account of the extraordinary in the lives of the ordinary.
Styles of biographical authors
Some biographies carry more authority and detail than others. While the serious scholar might want to read multiple biographies against the background of their writing, for most of us, one good one is all we want and have time for.
The most recent Christian biographies generally have access to new material and previously unseen records. They’re usually illustrated - often in colour, of high print quality, written in a modern style and supported with more material on-line.
Factual and novelised accounts
Some publishers offer their own series of Christian biographies by the same writers. Choosing biographies from the same series might be helpful if the reader likes a publisher’s format for their other books or likes a particular writer’s style.
Some Christian biographers are highly academic works of reference. Others apply their own imagination to events, situations and characters. Such ‘novelised’ biographies are usually much more readable and help bring the story alive.
And don't overlook biographies in film in video format. Often dramatised, they do give an instant image of a time or situation and are more easily shared for group study and discussion.
Quick Guide to Christian Biographies
What are they?
- True stories of lives transformed and transforming lives, lived in Christ.
- Real life accounts of the famous, the ordinary and the relatively unknown.
- Academic works, readable accounts, ‘novelisations’, and bio-pic movies.
What will they do for me?
- Give you an insight into what it means to be transformed by Christ.
- Enhance your experience of the extraordinary in the lives of the ordinary.
- Provide encouragement to another to find God in stories of life lived in Christ.
March 5th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison